Can You Follow Advice from Someone Who Isn’t Successful?

There is no shortage of advice. Everyone has an opinion on what to do and what not to do, and not many are afraid to shove it down your throat either, or take offense when you don’t follow what they say, or want you to drop down on your knees in gratitude they gave you five seconds of their time.

I think about this when I’m blogging and sharing my experiences, tweeting my own opinions, and especially when I’m scrolling through Twitter and my Facebook writing groups. I was poking around for motivational quotes for another blog post, and this one caught my eye:

I really like this because we’re all struggling writers, all trying to find that magic bullet that will catapult our book to bestseller status (with as little work and money as possible, if we’re being honest here), and we should be open to advice. We should be open to learning from other people’s experiences.

Probably one of my favorite topics to blog about is scammers–people offering a service they aren’t qualified to provide. The indie community is full of them, and how many indies finding ways to game the system or relieve you of your money knows no bounds. I got into a discussion with someone on Twitter the other day who is getting to the blurb-writing business. I asked politely, as I have never had a problem with this person before, if he had a refund policy in place for the blurbs that don’t convert to sales. He said that blurbs aren’t part of marketing that therefore he had no refund policy in place as it wasn’t his responsibility to market your book and that conversion on a new blurb wasn’t measurable. I said I wished him well and that I hoped his own sales success was proof that he could write a good blurb. He said he was doing just fine. I took a look at his book rankings, and unless he meant something other than book sales, no he wasn’t doing just fine.

So he 1) didn’t believe a blurb was part of marketing a book, 2) didn’t have a refund policy in place if you were unhappy with conversion 3) didn’t believe blurb conversion could be measured and 4) his own books weren’t doing well sales-wise. I hope people followed along our tweets because there is no way this person should be offering a blurb-writing business AT ALL. I did the best I could to call him out, but there’s only so much I can do, especially without looking like a big B. I think I already have a reputation on Twitter as being a bit aggressive, and I’m trying to soften up my look. It’s not working.

This goes for a lot of other advice too–writing advice, cover advice, marketing advice. I know one writer who loves to give writing advice, is always sharing excerpts of her work, but it’s all telling and she’s not selling books. People who don’t know what covers are hot in their genre love to give advice on what they like and don’t like. Maybe their advice is valid, maybe it’s not, but if you’re trying to ask for advice from a perspective that others don’t share (like writing to market, covers to market, writing commercial fiction, or the other way–if you want to write your own thing getting advice from someone who doesn’t share that viewpoint won’t help), it can be tough. You’ll be inundated with opinions that would never help.

Sometimes a fresh set of eyes can help whether the people those eyes belong to have had their own success or not. I feel like I know what goes into a bestseller, and I can say easily that depending on Twitter for sales will only go so far, or you need to learn an ad platform, or you need to change your cover, simply for the fact your cover is horrendous and I don’t need to be a bestselling author to know it.

I think that’s why I like Bryan Cohen’s free Amazon ad challenge so much. When he shares his screen/Amazon Ads dashboard during the videos, we can see that he’s selling books. We can see that he’s written books that people want to buy. Yes, he spends a lot of money on ads, but he also makes it all back and more. His ad challenge wouldn’t be worth much if he wasn’t selling books.

Just the other day in a group someone was asking about a different indie author who offers classes (that aren’t free) and one poster said, “I stopped taking his classes when he stopped selling books.” Like the blurb-writing guy, people forget that it doesn’t take much time to go onto a book’s product page and see the ranking in the Kindle store. You can go onto any of my books’ sales pages and see that I’m not selling many. I’m very transparent–in fact it’s practically the premise of my whole blog–I’m not selling books, this is why I think that is, how I’m changing that, and I hope what I try can help you. I’m not interested in making money off this blog. When I get a couple of readers who thank me for the resources or thank me for sharing my experiences, or tell me they tried something and it worked, I consider my job well done.

So what do I suggest you do when you might consider taking someone’s advice?

  1. Take a look at their success rate if at all possible. Look at their covers if they are going into business creating covers and see if they know market trends, what’s selling right now. Look at their books’ rankings and decide for yourself if they’re qualified to give the advice their giving.
  2. Ask yourself if what they’re saying makes sense. Trends change, and maybe someone isn’t up on the newest thing–like that lady who told me my first person blurb isn’t how everyone else is doing it, when actually most are now, at least where billionaire romance is concerned. But it could be that you missed the boat with something and their advice is legit. Check it out and see if it’s something you want to experiment with.
  3. Where else are they online? Sometimes Amazon sales rank won’t always be the greatest measure of success. LIke the guy who wants to write blurbs, maybe he is successful somewhere else (like writing ad copy for his day job), but if he doesn’t make that known, it reflects poorly on the business he wants to start. Some writers publish to Wattpad and have a large following there. Some write for blogs that have good traffic and they have a large following in that circle. Some submit to literary journals and are published in lit mags. Dig deeper. You might be surprised–and learn their opinion is steeped in more experience than you think.
  4. Do they have a good track record giving advice? Sales aren’t the end all be all, I know that. Sometimes questionable books do quite well and no one can figure out why. Maybe someone has a great marketing tip that didn’t work for themselves but worked really well for someone else. Maybe they know a secret ingredient and it turns out to be the last piece of your own puzzle that can bring your books to the next level, like a promo that didn’t do much for them but made another author’s book rank high in the charts. I edit on the side for friends who can’t afford it. Just because my sales aren’t great doesn’t meant I’m not a good writer or editor. I have a handful of people who could tell you that I’m good at what I do and that I’m qualified to give grammar, punctuation, and writing advice.
  5. Look at the viewpoint of the person giving the advice. I tweeted about this not long ago–taking the advice from one writer on Twitter when there are a million readers out there probably isn’t the best idea. Writers read differently, and what would bother a writer may not faze a reader. I catch myself doing that all the time–stressing while editing or writing about something a writer said they disliked. Why should I care if a writer says she doesn’t like the word moist (or whatever?) Chances are 99.99% that she will NEVER read any of my books. So why does it matter? All that matters is what readers think–and they will tell you.

I’ve taken advice (and my cover for Faking Forever is better for it), but I’ve ignored my fair share. I’ve also given a lot of advice, and usually in some way the people I’ve spoken with aren’t ready to hear it–even if they’ve asked for it. I’ve told plenty of people their covers aren’t working. I’ve looked inside a lot of books and said they need another editing pass. I’ve pointed out blurbs that aren’t written well, and I don’t think a day goes by where I haven’t told someone that they need to branch out from Twitter for marketing if they aren’t seeing the results they want. Usually my advice consists of either spending time or money (it’s work, y’all), but you have to invest something in your books if you want to find readers and nurture an audience. Just today someone on Twitter said he would take down his YouTube channel if he couldn’t get up to a certain number of followers by the New Year, but when I asked him what he did to drive traffic to his channel besides Twitter, he didn’t answer me. So in that non-answer I know the answer. Nothing. I don’t need to be a YouTube guru to tell him he needs to promote his channel to expand his audience and threatening to take his channel down won’t do anything to build his audience. The opposite, in fact, because why would someone invest time in something that may disappear?

At the very heart of your business, only you can make decisions for you, and only you can decide what to apply to your book business and what not to apply. If you’re not seeing the results you want in blog follows, sales, YouTube subscribers, whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish, that will be the true test. Trying to achieve different results doing the same thing over and over again will not work, and you don’t need anyone to tell you that. (And if you can’t admit it, it won’t matter how many people tell you–you won’t believe them anyway.)

So, after all that, should you follow advice from someone who isn’t successful? I guess the murky answer is maybe. I certainly wouldn’t pay for anything if the person dispensing said advice couldn’t put his money where his mouth is, and in the indie publishing business, that usually means book sales. There are quite a few top-tier indies who do dispense advice through podcasts, non-fiction books, interviews, and various classes they’ve decided to teach. Some will do consulting, some blog and offer their advice for free. There is plenty of advice out there from indies who are making it, so maybe there’s no need to take advice from someone who isn’t. It could be that simple.

Do you give advice? Take it? Let me know!

Until next time!

Thursday Thoughts and Personal Update

I think it was two weeks ago I blogged a list of the things I needed to accomplish in the short term to get the ball rolling on publishing some books. I am happy to say that I’ve managed to check of quite a few of those.

I proofed the proof for Faking Forever, put the changes into Vellum, generated new files and corrected the mistakes on the cover/full wrap–more on that. I created a Large Print edition and ordered a new proof of the regular print and the proof of the large print. Since I never used to utilize the back matter of my 3rd person books, it was strange to add a sign up link to my newsletter to the back matter of these. I should add a buy link to the next book as well, but I’ll have to go back and edit those as I have books available. For now the back matter only has one call to action, and that’s to sign up for my newsletter. Organic sign-ups are the best though, so I will be happy if I get any from that.

To ease some of the pressure of learning Bookfunnel and how to segregate lists in MailerLite, I decide to forego offering a reader magnet for the moment. I can write something quickly, maybe after Christmas, but I was putting too much pressure on myself when really what I want to do for right now is publish a couple standalones and start getting my pen name out there. I don’t know how Bookfunnel works, and I need to figure that out and spend more time in the MailerLite dashboard to figure out who goes where when they sign up for what. It will help when I get some signups, and then I can see what happens. I don’t want anyone not to be offered a free book because I don’t know what I’m doing. Needless to say, I decided to sell the book I’d decided to use as a reader magnet, but once I get the ball rolling and familiarize myself with my newsletter I’ll write something else. It was a blow, but at the same time a ball of anxiety loosened in my chest. I know offering a reader magnet is the best way to entice people to sign up, and I will get to that eventually, but for now. I just want to focus on getting some books ready to publish.

I also formatted My Biggest Mistake and did the cover. I have another blog post coming about this, but I asked for feedback on the blurb in my various FB writing groups. Here is the cover for this ugly duckling standalone, and the interior I formatted with Vellum:

Probably I’m not going to be able to use a dark-haired sad guy looking down again, since he looks similar to the cover to Faking Forever:

Initially I had my name at the top, above his head, but since I’m trying to keep more of an idea of branding for my books and not having to go back and redo anything, I moved my name to the bottom. I think it looks nicer. The proofs I have coming will have my name at the top, but I won’t need to order proofs again for such a small change.

I have seen other photos of the two men, and they are two different gentlemen (with some stock photos, you never know), but I’ll have to keep this in the back of my mind and go for a different look for my next few books. That should be easy to do since after I proof the proof to My Biggest Mistake, I’ll be starting to (finally) edit and get my series ready that I wrote last year during the lockdown. I am really excited to take a look at those books with fresh eyes, and it will be a challenge to do six covers, a trilogy for Zane and Stella and a trilogy for Zarah and Gage, but have them all feel similar since the story reaches over all six books. I should do the smart thing and hire out, but I like the control, and with so many scammers out there, trust is hard to come by.

This week I’ve been taking a break–it’s hard not be writing anything, but the proof for My Biggest Mistake will come Saturday, and after that I’ll be jumping into a few months of non-stop work. I’m trying to enjoy the time off, but not actively writing anything, especially since I know what I want to write next, (and it isn’t a reader magnet) is a bit strange. I’ve been reading a domestic thriller I bought a few months ago and I need to format and do a cover for the box set of my wedding series. I think that is the biggest item on my list I haven’t crossed off yet. It’s not hard–just moving Vellum files over to create a large one, but it’s busy work. I need to make a mug of coffee one evening, put on some music and get it done. I don’t want to wait too long–the Christmas books are already starting to pop, and I think I could get some good KU page reads and sales, especially if I sell it at .99 from October until December.

They’re all in KU singly, but I haven’t gotten many reads on them in the past few months. In fact, I’ve stopped looking at my sales dashboard, and only keep an eye on my ads to the extent that they are breaking even. I was going to try to find a different couple for the front so I can run some ads to the box set, but I don’t know if it’s worth it. I tried looking for a different pose of the couple on the first book, but they are all in bed, or doing dopey things like being sad at a pregnancy test result. I could zoom in on their faces to take the “lying down” element out of it and see if that works, but as they are positioned right now, Amazon won’t let my ads go through, and it’s been very hurtful for the series as a whole.

That might actually work. It would be an easy fix to upload new ebook covers for books without having to change too much if the new cover could get through Amazon’s cover guidelines. All I can do is try to submit and see what happens. It would be nice to be able to advertise these this winter. I can add zooming in on their faces to my to-do list.

As far as health news goes, my infection is gone, but an ultrasound revealed an ovarian cyst that is making me feel not so great. So I have a follow up next month to see what’s going on with that. I’m not in pain, just a sense of discomfort most days and some bloating. I’m getting old though, so I suppose it’s to be expected.

I guess that’s all for now. Things are moving along, though this week slowly. It will be nice when things pick up. I didn’t want to start writing a book. Then I would be suck for six weeks while I finished it. I’m trying to convince myself that having a week off isn’t a bad thing, and today all I’ve done is take a walk and write this blog post.

Later I’ll be creating author interview questions for Nina Romano, and there will be a giveaway…I’m thinking for fall… so stay tuned for that in coming weeks.

Thanks for checking in! Have a great rest of your week!

The 80/20 rule and how you can apply it to your writing and marketing (The Pareto Principle)

The 80/20 rule is pretty simple. You want 20% of your effort to bring in 80% of your results. If you did 80% of work for only a 20% ROI, you’d get burnt out pretty fast. So what does this rule really mean? When it comes to writing, publishing, and marketing, you have to figure out what will require the least amount of effort that will give you the most return. That can be different for everyone. Here are some tips to getting ahead with 20% of effort because no one has time to work for nothing.

  1. What are you writing? Bryan Cohen came up with an excellent analogy during the last webinar I listened to. He said, if you’re not selling books, take a look at what you’re writing. Is there a demand for it? He used underwater basket weaving memoirs as an example. If you’re writing a series about your experiences with underwater basket weaving but no one is into that, writing book after book isn’t going to help you find readers or increase sales. You’re just adding supply where there is no demand. You’re wasting a lot of effort for little return and eventually you’ll get burnt out and possibly give up. What can you do to fix that? Think about what you want to write. That is always important because you need to like what you’re writing. There are other genres I’m sure you like to write besides underwater basket weaving. If you can find what you enjoy writing and match that up with a genre that’s selling, you’ll be a lot closer to that 20% of effort because you won’t be spending so much time writing something that won’t sell.
  2. Find an ad platform that works for you. Beating your head against a wall trying to figure out Facebook ads and how to use them without going broke might be a huge waste of your time if Amazon’s auto placement ads bring in steady sales with a low cost-per-click. On the other hand, maybe your ads aren’t working at all because your cover isn’t on target for your genre and you’re getting plenty of impressions but no clicks. You’re wasting 80% of your effort trying to make ads work, and when you only gain maybe 20% in return, you’re either losing money on clicks that don’t generate sales or you’re wasting time fiddling with click cost, daily budget, and ad copy, which can be just as valuable, or even more so, if your life is packed and you have a limited amount of time in which to write. Amazon ads work well if your categories are set correctly, the keywords you chose when you published are accurate and relevant, and you have a good cover/title/blurb. Contrary to popular belief, if you show Amazon evidence you have a good book, they will help you promote it by showing your ad. Facebook ads work well if you can zero in on your target audience and can create a good ad–stock photo, headline, maybe an excerpt from your book. How you go about learning those platforms is up to you, as we all learn differently and click with different people teaching those classes.
  3. Choose your social media platforms wisely. If you’re on Twitter 80% of your “free” time and your engagement isn’t encouraging sales, maybe it’s time to rethink where you spend your time. It’s different if you’re on for social hour to relax or blow off steam, or if you’re wanting to make connections and network, or join in a chat, but tweeting promos all the time with no engagement (on your followers part) and no sales seems like a gigantic waste of time to me. You’d be better off creating a Facebook Author/Reader group and posting engaging content on there, or blogging about genre-specific topics to encourage your readers to buy your books. You could also start a newsletter and write a reader magnet, or if your reader magnet is old, create fresh content to spice things up. Whatever you do, if you’re not seeing a return for the investment of your time, it’s time to try something else.
  4. Make a list of what’s working… or not. If you’re like me, you haven’t been in the game long enough to know what works, or at it long enough to know what doesn’t. I’m not making much money. The five years I’ve been writing and publishing have been true lessons of what not to do. How can we make a list of the things that work if we don’t know them? Look to the pros. Everyone says newsletters are the key to a good launch and steady sales. I don’t have evidence to the contrary, so I started one. Writing without a niche didn’t give me very far, so I’m drilling down. Not networking in my genre has left me feeling lonely and I don’t have any opportunities for collaboration or newsletter swaps, so I’m joining in more. Those are all big mistakes, but if I correct those and experiment to see if those are things that will work for me, I can add them to the list.

Chances are, if you’re a writer, you can never go wrong with spending the most time writing your books. Building a back list can increase your overall sales, and consistently adding books to your front list will keep the algorithms at Amazon happy.

Ultimately, you want to work less but while doing so, achieve more. This is especially important if you’re like me and writing isn’t your day job. I have a lot of places for my time and attention to go, and doing things that won’t move my business forward will only be a waste of time in the end.

What are your 20% activities? What are some that are considered part of your 80% but still enjoy doing? Let me know!

Doing a Full Paperback Wrap in Canva for KDP Print (plus screen grabs)

I’ve come across this question a lot these days, mostly I think because a lot of authors use Canva for their ebook covers and graphics for promos. Some bloggers have compared Canva to Book Brush, and while Book Brush can do many things Canva can’t, I feel that Canva is more versatile and I prefer to use it over Book Brush. Especially since Book Brush is more expensive and if you already pay for Canva Pro, you’re not looking to plop down another $146 (for their popular package) a year on another program.

I’ve never made a full wrap in Book Brush, though it is a feature they have available in their paid plans. I made my first paperback wrap in Canva not even knowing if it was possible. It was the old cover for Wherever He Goes and it was a complete experiment applying what I knew from making covers in Word before I knew Canva existed. I ordered a proof not knowing what to expect, but the cover came out beautifully, and since then I’ve done all my wraps in Canva and for a couple other authors too.

These days if there is trouble with a cover, it’s probably a KDP Print glitch. Their POD printers are overworked and underpaid just like all of us these days and I’ve heard reports of covers not printing well, interiors that are crooked, pages falling out of the binding, and even text of other books inside yours. That is a KDP Print problem, not a Canva problem. The only issue I’ve ever encountered doing a paperback wrap in Canva is that IngramSpark requires a CMYK color file while Canva saves in RGB as does GIMP. IngramSpark will still accept your file, but they warn you the coloring in the cover might be off. If this is truly a concern of yours, don’t use Canva for a full wrap. Learn PhotoShop or hire out. I publish with IngramSpark and in a blog post from a couple years ago, I compared the books from IngramSpark and KDP Print. While everyone insists IngramSpark prints with better quality, I did not find that to be the case, and Canva had nothing to do with it.

That being said, there are a couple things you need to know before you do a full wrap in Canva.

Your stock photo must be in 300 dpi. I buy my photos from Deposit Photos, and lately when I download a photo, the image size is huge but the dpi is only 72. You have to fix this or your cover will come out pixelated and you won’t know why. You can download GIMP for free and use the SCALE IMAGE (under Image in the menu) to fix this, or if you already have Photoshop, adjust the dpi and save. That is the photo version you want to upload into Canva.

This is the screenshot from a photo I used to make a mock cover the other day. You can see that the dpi is only 72. And if you take a look at the width and height, sometimes that is too huge for Canva to accept and they’ll ask you to fix the size. The width and the height doesn’t matter so much, and you can change the width to a lower number. This is a horizontal photo and I chose 3000 for the width. Press Enter and it will automatically resize the height. With the DPI set to 300, export it as a jpg or png, it doesn’t matter, Canva accepts both. (If I’ve lost you on this step, you’ll have to do your own digging. I rarely use GIMP and this post is by no means a tutorial on how to use it, because yeah, I don’t know how to do very much.)

You have to have your interior already formatted for paperback. That includes the front and back matter, the font you chose, gutters and margins and all the rest. Unless you want to play, it’s helpful if this is the final version of your paperback interior. It’s already been through betas and your editor. It should be ready to publish. If it’s not, you can experiment with your cover for practice, but you need the final number of pages for your spine’s width. KDP Print gives you ten pages of wiggle room. That’s not much and more often than not, they’ll make you resize your cover using an updated template.

Choose the trim size you want and page color you want. I see this question all the time in the FB groups, and most say it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Though if you’re concerned with printing costs, the more pages you have–250+–the larger the trim size you want (6×9 is best) because more pages means higher printing cost. My novels run anywhere between 70k to 90k and the only thing that I use as a yardstick is this: My series books are 5×8. My standalones are 5.5×8.5. I don’t know why I do this, but it’s a system I’ve fallen into. If you write epic fantasy and your books are 400 pages, choose the 6×9.

This is one of Lindsay Buroker’s epic fantasies. Amazon makes it easy for you to check out what other authors in your genre are doing. You can see that this book is 528 printed pages and she chose a 6×9 trim size. Her spine is 1.32 inches. It’s a thick book. When you publish and set your prices, KDP Print will offer you a royalty calculator and you can price your book based on the royalties you’ll make when you sell a paperback. Price too high and you won’t get many takers. Price too low and you won’t make anything on the sale. Try to find a happy medium and fit in with what other authors in your genre are doing.

As for the color, I always choose cream for fiction. Seems the standard is cream for fiction, white for nonfiction. There may be exceptions, but that’s what I go with.

When you have the number of pages from the formatted file, know your trim size and page color, you can Google KDP paperback templates.

This is only for paperback. As of this writing, they are rolling out a hardcover option. It’s in beta right now, but offering a hardcover is what you’ll need to decide based on your business goals. I write romance and I focus my marketing on readers in Kindle Unlimited. A hardcover edition of my book doesn’t interest me, and if I ever wasted the time to create one, it would be for vanity purposes only.

Download the template. It will come in a ZIP file. Open it up and save the PNG as a name you’ll be able to find later. You can’t upload a PDF into Canva, only download, so the PNG is the one you’ll want.

Now it’s time to do some math.

When you want to do a full wrap in Canva, you need to know the canvas size. This is where I think a lot of people get tripped up. How do you figure out the size of the canvas so your template will fit? Your canvas size has to be the size of your book’s trim, plus spine width, plus the bleed. These numbers will change based on the trim size you choose for your books and the spine size. You won’t be able to use the same canvas size over and over unless you choose the same trim size AND your book is the same number of pages every time. That’s going to be highly unlikely, so it’s best just to realize you’re going to need to learn how to do the math.

We’ll start with the template:

The template will tell you how wide your spine is. You need this for the math. There is another way to figure out spine if you don’t download the template first, but this is the easiest way so no use giving you more math.

Then this is how you figure out the size of the canvas:

For the width of the canvas: The width of the back cover plus bleed, plus spine, plus the width of the front cover plus bleed.

If we use the template above as an example, the template is 5.5 x 8.5. This is what we add together:

5.5 (back cover) + .125 (bleed) + .65 (spine) + 5.5 (front cover) + .125 (bleed) = 11.90 inches.

That is the inch width you put into the custom dimensions box in Canva. The default is pixels, you’ll need to change it to inches.

If you need to see it in a different way, I made this for a friend:

The height of the book is 8.5 + the bleed .25 = 8.75. This is the number you put into the height box in the custom dimensions.

Hit enter or click on Create New Design and you have the canvas for a 5.5x 8.5 sized book with a .65 spine. It might not look like much, but now you can upload the PNG of your template and put that into the canvas.

It will take a little moving around, but keep as much orange as possible because that’s your bleed line. Anything on the orange or beyond has a chance of getting cut off in printing. The spine guidelines keep your text from bring printed on the front or back covers. Make sure the template covers the entire canvas.

You might have noticed I didn’t tell you your template needs to be at 300 dpi, and it doesn’t. You’ll be building your cover on top of this template and you won’t see it at all when your book is printed.

When I say that you’ll be building your cover on top of this, I mean you’ll be putting the stock photo and all the text on top of the template. What you use for your front cover and the back cover is going to be up to you. Some authors use a horizontal photo like the woman on the dock above and use it to create a full wrap from the one photo, like this:

Woman in white dress sitting alone on the pier. Back view (purchased from Deposit Photos)

You can see I flipped her and used a filter, but I used the whole photo for a full cover wrap. I built it on top of the template using the transparency feature and it looks like this:

Using the bleed lines, you can put the font where it needs to go. It’s not perfect–the author name isn’t centered and can come down more. When you’re done with the bleed lines, change the transparency of the photo back to 0 and this is what you’ll download. Download the file in print-ready PDF for your KDP dashboard when you upload your files for publishing.

Lots of people say they don’t know what to put on the back of their covers. The sky is the limit, really, from just the blurb to reviews of the book to your author photo. I’ve only done my author photo once, and that was for the back of All of Nothing:

The only thing I would caution you on is you don’t need to make the blurb font huge. It was one of my mistakes first starting out. And if you don’t want to put a white box for the bar code, you don’t have to. KDP Print will add it when they print your cover. Google for more full wrap ideas.

For the woman on the dock, I blew up the part of the water giving the back cover a grainy texture that matched the photo but some authors like the full photo wrap. It keeps them from. having to worry about getting the bleed lines on the spine perfect for printing. POD printing isn’t an exact science anyway, so chances are even if your PDF is perfect, the spine will be a little off. No matter how centered my title and author name are, almost 100% of the time they won’t be centered on the spine when you order a copy. Now that I’ve done it both ways, I think I prefer the full photo wrap.

I added a white gradient (that you can find in Canva) to the bottom to white out the dock a little bit making Penny’s name more readable. When it comes to cover design you know your own abilities. I’ve often said I’m lucky I write romance and can find a cute couple and slap some text over them and call it good. It’s not that simple, obviously, but if I wrote in epic fantasy, or even thriller, I would have to hire out. I’m not interested in learning beyond what I know. I’m a writer, not a graphic designer.

Developing an eye for book covers takes time and a lot of practice. Sometimes what you think looks good on the screen won’t translate well to a printed cover at all and you’ll be back to the drawing board. If you’re tackling book covers for the first time, you may be investing in some proof copies just to see how your work looks printed. If your business model makes paperbacks important, then you’ll put a lot of time into learning how to make your paperbacks look amazing. Like I said before, my business model centers around KU readers and it’s more important to make sure my cover grabs attention at thumbnail size and indicates to readers the second they look at it what genre it is.

It might seem like I skimmed over the most important part: the math. We can do another book with a different trim size just for practice.

This is the template the first book in my Rocky Point Wedding series. The trim is 5×8 and the spine is .70 inches. If we do the math for the Canva canvas it would look like this:

5.0 (back cover) + .125 (bleed) + .70 (spine) + 5.0 (front cover) + .125 (bleed) = 10.95. That is the width you would need to put into the custom box.

The height would be 8.0 (cover) + .25 (bleed) = 8.25. That is the height you would put into the custom dimensions box.

This is the cover I did for the first book in the series:

I did most of it in Canva, though I added some transparent gradient in GIMP for blending the two photos. Everything I know I taught myself, and it’s not fair i’m trying to shove four years of practicing and learning into one blog post. You’ll have to do your own experimenting.

Some odds and ends I picked up on the way:

Don’t buy a bar code. You don’t need one. KDP Print and IngramSpark will generate one for you. I buy my own ISBNs though, and that will be a choice you need to make if you’re in the States and expected to pay god-awful prices.

Don’t use free photos from Unsplash, Pixabay, Pexels, et al. Cover your butt and secure your business and use photos that you pay for from trusted sites like Shutterstock or Deposit Photos. Same with fonts. Not everything is available for commercial use. Be careful.

Use caution when choosing the models on your covers if you write romance. Amazon has gotten very picky lately, and the cover for His Frozen Heart disqualifies me from being able to run ads on Amazon Advertising to that series. Needless to say, that sucks.

You can use the same canvas size for an IngramSpark template. The one difference between an IS template and a KDP Print template is the spine for IS is narrower. The only adjustment you’ll be making is your font size for your title and author name on the spine will be smaller.

Elements (font, symbols ) can shift when you download your PDF and they will look “off” when you upload to KDP. I haven’t found a solution for this except to overcorrect, save, and re-download so the elements are in the place they are supposed to be. When you download the PDF, check the file before uploading to KDP. You’ll see if anything has shifted and you can correct it. The KDP Print previewer will show you exactly how your book cover and interior will print. If you don’t like ANYTHING in the previewer, fix it because printing won’t change it.


There are videos on how to create a full cover wrap in Canva–and you might find them helpful–but the few I’ve watched leave out important steps like making sure your photo is 300 dpi. This is going to take some trial and error. I remember being soooo nervous waiting to see if the cover for Wherever He Goes was going to look good.

I think that’s all I have. I know it seems like a lot of information, but blogs and videos won’t take the place of practice. If you have any questions, leave me a comment. I’ll answer to the best of my ability. If you’re making covers with my tips, tweet me at @V_Rheault on Twitter. I want to see what you’re doing.

Thanks for reading!

Until next time!


Resources I’ve found helpful:

IngramSpark’s File Creation Guide

KDP Print’s template generator

IngramSpark’s template generator

Canva Book Cover Templates

Snobbery in the publishing industry.

In one of my Facebook groups I’ve since left, there was a gal, let’s call her Ella. She was a traditionally published romance author, but she said due to burnout, she hasn’t written for quite some time. I know how real burnout can be–especially in romance where publishing three to four books a year is the norm.

But throughout some discussions that I lurked in on, I realized one thing. Burnout hasn’t kept her from writing. Snobbery has.

You see, Ella stopped writing when her book deals dried up and she refused to indie-publish further books.

When I made this realization (and maybe it’s a realization she herself hasn’t come to) I sat back, stunned.

Of course, I don’t speak to Ella and her real reasons are all my conjecture at this point, but it’s worth talking about.

Snobbery in the publishing industry is real. There’s snobbery against indie publishing, there’s snobbery against romance in general, which makes Ella’s reasons for not writing anymore all that more laughable because she’s writing in a genre that is looked down upon more than any other genre on the planet. If we gave in to snobbery, there wouldn’t be romance (considered fluff by many) erotica, for sure, or most genre fiction. We wouldn’t have comic books (considered a low form of “reading” by some). We wouldn’t have audiobooks (listening is not reading!) and so much more.

Ella’s bitter because she blames indie-publishing for stealing her book deals and won’t contribute to a system she feels is beneath her. But we all know the traditional publishing industry is broken–the mid-list didn’t disappear overnight, and it’s no one’s fault but the big houses’ that indie authors stepped up and filled that gap.

But let’s say Ella has a point. What can she do?

*She could pivot. Being capable of adjusting is vital with any career choice. (I have an HR degree, and I shudder when I think about all they have gone through with COVID and work-from-home protocols. Not once in any of my HR classes did we talk about a pandemic.) She could switch from romance and write literary fiction. She could spend the next five years writing the next great American novel. She could then query, obtain her precious book deal, and watch her book sell a thousand copies, maybe win an award, if she’s lucky.

*She could write women’s fiction which seems to have a little more meat than straight-up romance and grab a book deal and hope to become the next Jennifer Weiner. Or she could write women’s fiction, swallow her pride, and build a following like other women’s fiction indie authors (see: Jane Davis and Jessie Newton), and hope to gain a “respectable” and “sophisticated” audience.

*She could keep writing what she loves and indie-publish because after all, there is no better marketing than writing the next book and her front list would sell her backlist (the books she’s most proud of, I guess. Shrug.).

So instead of letting bitterness about something she has no control over dictate how she writes, Ella does have choices. Instead she chooses to let snobbery and resentment win.

Maybe she’s tired. The system can be disheartening at times, and in this business, it’s important to understand your WHY. Why was Ella writing in the first place? For the glory of the book deal? The validation (good reviews?)? To reach readers who love to read romance? She can still reach readers indie-publishing. More, in fact because she’ll have complete control of her books. She can run ads, host giveaways, build a newsletter, and she’ll share less royalties than if she were still traditionally-published.

I’m not a snob, though sometimes I may sound like I am. I believe there is room for every genre, every story. My problem is I wish authors would take a little more pride in their work, and maybe in the end, that’s all Ella’s problem is too. Books that are unedited or poorly written because the author published before her skills were up to snuff. We’ve all read that one book that had potential but just wasn’t quite there. I mean, there’s snobbery and then just wanting to see a bit more quality in the industry. That’s nothing to feel bad about–as authors, we shouldn’t be asking readers to part with their money unless what you’re giving in return is a good, enjoyable read.

I feel sorry for Ella, that her snobbery, resentment and bitterness keeps her from doing something she loves. If I’ve learned anything about the industry in the last four years I’ve been writing and publishing is that anger and resentment have no place here.

A couple years ago, I heard something funny. When we talk about quality in the inde-publishing space a saying that you might often hear is, “Cream floats to the top.” Meaning, the best books will rise to the top despite what everyone is publishing. Then I heard something I hadn’t heard before, the rejoiner: “Yeah, and so does sh*t.” It made me laugh. You can say books like Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight are the sh*tty books that have floated to the top, but it just goes to show that there is space in this industry for everyone.

I hope Ella finds hers.


Another article about the midlist from The Guardian: ‘There’s no safety net’: the plight of the midlist author

If you’re interested in hearing an interview with Jane Davis, Joanna Penn interviewed her a little while ago, and you can listen to it here:

Monday Musings and where I’m at right now.

Happy Monday! I hope you all are having a terrific start to your week!

I don’t have much to share with you this week–I’m only going to be talking about a few things that I’ve enjoyed in the past few days and catch you up with what I’ve been doing.

First of all, I want to thank all my subscribers who come back week after week to consume and participate in the content. Last week I made it to 500 followers, and WordPress gave me this cute little congratulations.

Blogging is a slow road and sometimes it feels like you’re blogging to no one and without thanks. Building your SEO and reputation is long, arduous work, but I love blogging. It gives me a break from the novel-writing part of my brain, and I enjoy dipping into the publishing part of being a writer/author. I like sharing my ups and downs, mistakes and the (few) things I’ve done right. I hope to continue my blog and offer useful and relevant content in the years to come. Thanks for sticking with me, and I hope you find all the information I post on here useful and relatable.


I finished my WIP last week, the second book of the second series I’m writing in first person present. Since finishing to now blogging about it, not only have I finished it, I’ve given it two editing sweeps. To be honest, I’m not sure what my publishing plan is, or how fast I’m going to release any of the eight books I’ve written this and last year and are now just sitting on my laptop. They all need to be edited to some extent, so they aren’t exactly ready. The first thing I want to do, though, is take a break from this series and write my reader magnet for my newsletter. While I write my newsletter, I’m going to learn how MailerLite, Bookfunnel, and StoryOrigin work. I’ll keep you posted on the blog. My reader magnet will only be available for newsletter signups, and I’d like to have a few subscribers before I start launching books. I have a glimmer of an idea for it, but I have to plot it out and write it. Soft deadlines are good for me, so I want to finish it by the middle of April. I’m giving myself some extra time because I’ll be learning a whole bunch of stuff and well, I don’t even know what my characters’ names are yet, so I better get brainstorming!

Excerpt from Finn and Juliet, book 2 of my Billionaires of Briarwood series.

Last week, I listened to a really great author interview on the 6 figure author podcast. Lindsay, Jo, and Andrea interviewed Elana Johnson. I might have heard her name here and there, but to be honest, I didn’t know who exactly she was before the interview, now I want to gobble up all her content! One of the things that really stuck out to me was when she said, “The package is the promise, and you have to deliver on the promise.” What she meant is, you need a good cover and blurb that is genre-relevant, and then what is inside the cover matches reader expectations of that genre. Not a lot of authors talk about craft because they’re worried about stepping on toes, etc. And to be fair, it’s difficult to tell an author her books need more work. I’ve only said that to a couple people in my whole life and only because they asked for advice. A writer never really stops learning, but I like how Elana phrased it. The package is the promise. And the promise is you’ve written a great story. Besides being a bestselling author, she also writes nonfiction, and I’ll be reading her books soon. To look at the first book in her nonfiction series, click here. And here’s the interview if you want to give a listen.


That advice is similar to what I’m learning in Suzy K. Quinn’s Self Publishing Formula class, How to Write a Bestseller. I wish I could outline everything I’ve been learning, but that wouldn’t be fair to Suzy, who’s making an income off the class and would be disrespectful to the time she put into creating the class, and it wouldn’t be fair to me, really, who’s paid for it. But I will say, she starts the class by encouraging you to think about the book’s package. The genre, the cover/vibe, who your audience is. Create a tagline, and put together what the book will be when it’s finished. That’s not so far off from Elana saying, your book’s package is your promise to your reader. With this reader magnet, I’m going to create the package first before I begin writing it. I suppose you could say that creating the package is the fun part, but having everything in place will keep the book on the straight and narrow and give me an ending point to look forward to. I can’t wait to start!


In other news, I got the first book in my series back from my paid beta reader. I only went over the overview she sent me. (She liked it!) I haven’t gone into her track changes yet since I’m not ready to start editing that book, but I’m excited to see the things she liked and the parts of the book where she thought I could use a little more plumping. The few things she did touch on I agreed with, but I didn’t want to edit it too much more without feedback. I feel editing too much without feedback wastes time because I can’t see all the mistakes myself. So I’m making progress! I feel like I’m hoarding a secret and I can’t tell anybody what I’m doing until I’m ready.


On a more personal note, I asked to go back to work vs. working from home, and they told me no. I think now working from home has more to do with cost-saving measures rather than protecting us from COVID, and while I wasn’t surprised they said no, I was disappointed. This means if I do have some anxiety because of the cut-off feeling I have not going in to work, I’ll have to figure out a different way to alleviate that anxiety. I’m not feeling too much of it lately–having another day off during the week has helped and I don’t feel so stressed with getting my words in every week. As far as my butt pain goes from sitting on a hard chair, I’m standing up more during my shifts and it’s fading. Anything I’ve read about pelvic pain that has nothing to do with an infection (which I don’t have–remember I’ve been to the doctor twice to make sure) says that it can take up to 12 weeks for the pain to go away. I’ve been taking Aleve, too, and sitting on an ice pack when I do sit and it’s making a difference. BUT if I’m not feeling better by the end of the month, I’ll schedule another appointment. You just never know.


For Amazon ads check in, I’ve spent under 8 dollars this month, and I’ve grossed in royalties almost 50. (Net, around $42.00). I’ll have to think about what I want to do with these books. I still get a lot of my royalties from KU but if I’m not going to write in 3rd person past anymore (or not anytime soon) I may put them wide. I’m not sure. I don’t feel like I have the energy to market them wide and I may just leave them in KU. I don’t know. It’s the age old question of what’s best for your business and leaving all your eggs in one basket vs. multiple streams of income. It’s a tough choice. At least this month I’m in the black, and it’s still nice to see that people are reading all four of the Rocky Point Wedding books. That read through is always nice, and the validation you wrote a strong series can keep you motivated to write more. Soon it will be the one year anniversary of book one and I think it will be time to make up a boxed set. Luckily Velllum is good with that, and it won’t take me long at all.

Read-through for all the books in the series is small, but I’m grateful readers are reading from beginning to end.

My friend and fellow author Sarah Krewis is planning a Facebook live on her author page on the first of March. She’s giving away a paperback copy of my book, Wherever He Goes. Follow her page here and mark on your calendar to join in! Thanks, Sarah!

taken from Sarah’s FB author page

I guess that’s all the news I have for this week. I’ll be drifting a little bit as I plot out my reader magnet. I always feel hazy when I’m not actively writing–but since I don’t have a team and prefer to stay hands on with most aspects of the publishing and marketing side of things, there will always be times between books when I’m doing admin and production stuff. I enjoy it all, but I do get antsy when I’m not writing.

Have a good week everyone, and thanks for reading!


Welcome Guest Blogger Women’s Fiction and Domestic Thriller Author Sarah Krewis

a stack of books. quote says: what i learned when i published my debut novel
Provided by Sarah

I want to thank Vania for allowing me to guest post on her blog today. Our friendship began a little over four years ago, I believe, and with it has come some pretty stellar conversations about the life of an indie author. Today I want to talk about a few tools necessary if you want to succeed in this business, based on personal experience. 

When I began writing my debut novel, four years before I published it the first time, I had no idea what I was doing. Through research, my love of reading, and a handful of supportive people on Twitter, I figured out the barebones of how to write and publish a novel. It still wasn’t enough. 

I was stupid and naive. I thought that because I had a cover made, I had someone edit the book, and someone else to format it too, that it was all I needed to publish my story. Sure, my book cover was really well done. But I was impatient. I didn’t have a clear vision for my story so I wasn’t able to work with the designer to get it how I wanted because I didn’t fully know what I wanted. My editor gave it a first glance edit and made constructive notes. I made changes that I thought needed to be made, then I was done. I thought one round of edits would be enough and I didn’t need to have anyone else look at the book. I had set a publishing date, made the announcement on social media, and was two steps ahead of anyone who’d graciously offered to help me. 

I imagine now, when I look back on that time, a clear picture of those who helped me, standing on a sidewalk. Shock and disappointment on their faces, watching the cloud of dust behind me as I flew straight for the finish line with my unfinished project that I was so sure was this great thing. Back then, I had a lot of support on social media. I felt important, accepted, and successful. 

Then, I published. And I fell flat on my face. 

It seemed like overnight I lost 95% of support from social media. I sold approximately 25 books that first day, which isn’t bad but most of those were family members. Then sales dropped off a few days until I had months with no sales. The friends that were still in my corner were concerned for me and I was lost in a darkness of shame and disappointment in myself. I had no backbone for the blows I endured during that time and I felt defeated. 

My first review was from a FB friend who hadn’t even bought or read the book. That 5-star review was posted on the day the book went on sale. Before there were any sales.  Then, family members finished reading the book a few weeks later and I got more 5-star reviews. A few friends who read the book gave 5-star reviews or 4 stars. I was so excited! 

After about six months, I finally sat down and read my book again as a reader. I couldn’t believe it. The book wasn’t a 5-star book. At. All. At best, if I’m being nice, I’d give it a three. Once we got settled into our new home, I began a new edit and commissioned a new cover. December 1st, 2019, I released the newly edited version of my debut novel, Broken Tomorrows

It’s still not a 5-star book. 

Over the last three years since I first published the novel, I have grown and learned as an author. I have attempted to mend some of the friendships that I lost, and I took a good look at how I reacted and how sensitive I came across to those who knew me. If they left a 5-star review because they didn’t want to hurt my feelings, that’s on me. I never want anyone to feel like they can’t be truthful with me because it’ll hurt my feelings. 

In 2020, I took six months and focused on myself. I reviewed my life since I joined this business of writing and I asked myself some really tough questions, like, is writing really what I want to do with my life? I also stripped Broken Tomorrows off Amazon and redid about 75% of the story with the intent of republishing a third time. How do I know I’ve grown? I took a step back and realized that I need to write something new and fresh. I need to walk away from my characters and meet new ones. I do have a plan for what I rewrote of Broken Tomorrows, but that will come in a couple of years after I’ve shared some other characters with my readers. 

Authors should never pick up the task of writing a book unless they are prepared for everything that goes into it. Here are five tools you MUST understand before you begin writing that book, tools that I learned the hard way are essential to the craft.  

Read Reviews with Caution: As authors, we aren’t supposed to read reviews as they aren’t really for us. They are for other readers to share if the book is worth buying. I can do a whole other blog post about my thoughts on reviews, but I’ll save that for another time. IF you find yourself peeking (believe me, it’s hard not to do), take them for what they are: Someone else’s opinion. Read it, process it, check it, and then move on. 

Get a Backbone: This was one of my biggest lessons I had to learn, and it’s not something that happens overnight. Sometimes we need to read bad reviews and get negative feedback to strengthen us. But we also need to be stronger than the sensitive versions of ourselves. How to do this? Don’t take everything so personal. If someone gives you a negative reaction, take the good you can learn from it and grow. 

Have a solid Writing Community: I went into this business thinking that everyone in the writing community were supportive and loving people. That’s not true. There’s a saying out there that says something like, “other writers aren’t our competition” but in reality, not everyone believes that. While I did eventually find a handful of really great writers who support each other, it’s rarer than you might think. Reach out to other authors in the genre you write and support them. Some of those people may give you support back, or some may use you because your support goes a long way. Know what to look for and at the end of the day, understand that when people say writing is a lonely business, it’s not a false statement. 

Own Save the Cat Writes a Novel: I wish I had this book back in 2014 when I first started drafting Broken Tomorrows during NaNoWriMo. It gives a clear breakdown on each scene that needs to be written and why. It’s the perfect guide for those who enjoy outlining their novels. I get nothing for recommending this book to you, I just really believe in it. You can find the book on Amazon by Author Jessica Brody. 

Invest in Yourself: I used to scoff when people would tell me to do this. I mean, when you don’t have the money for an editor or cover designer, you don’t have it. But, while you may not be able to afford that $1800 Developmental Edit, you can buy books that will teach you how to edit yourself. You can find a way to enroll in inexpensive courses online to teach you the craft. Groupon got me into a Write Academy course and a 6-month subscription to The Writer Magazine. There are deals out there you just need to look for them. Sell items that you don’t use anymore and start a Writing Fund. Network with other authors and reach out to University students. 

Vania knows a lot about making writing a business. If this is your first time on her blog, I recommend following her because she has a lot of useful advice based on personal experience. I’ve learned that you have to treat this like a business if you want to make it as a successfully published author. Don’t let these tips above discourage you from doing what you love, if writing is what you feel destined to do. Writing has a lot of tough moments, but when you are holding your bestseller in your hands, you’ll remember those tough moments as paying your dues for success. 


My Highs and Lows of 2020

I’m tackling this blog post a little early since I plan to spend the rest of the month getting started with the first round of editing on my current WIP and celebrating Christmas. If we count from January 1st to December 31st, the numbers will be a little off, but not by too much.

2020 wasn’t the sh*tstorm for me as it was for some others. I still managed to write a lot of books, publish, and keep up with my blog. Let’s take a look at my numbers for 2020. I know some writers/authors who did a hell of a lot more than I did, but if I managed to get a little more work done than you this year please take it as a form of motivation for what you can do in 2021 rather than feel bad you didn’t get much accomplished. This year was unlike any other I’ve experienced and I count my blessings every day.

Books Published in 2020: 4 I spent all of 2019 writing my four-book Rocky Point Series. I published the four as a rapid release strategy at the beginning of this year. I don’t have a cultivated readership, and those books released without fanfare. How much have they earned me so far? These numbers are taken from BookReport, a Chrome browser extension.

This screenshot from BookReport says 8 books because the paperbacks are included in the count. I didn’t sell any paperbacks, and without the FreeBooksy promo I did in July, I don’t think my sales and read-through would have be been as good. And good is subjective. I have my sights set pretty high–these numbers don’t come close to what I want for my author business.

I am definitely not ungrateful–I know lots of authors would love to have these numbers. But when it comes to an author career, this is just a drop in the bucket–and I paid for those reads and sales with promos and ads. When I take a look at ad spend, I’m willing to bet I broke even. Which is fine, I’m finding readers, but without a newsletter or active FB author page, I have nowhere to keep them interested.

Sales as a whole for 2020: I have three standalones and a trilogy (also some novellas I don’t market) and these are my total numbers across all my books for 2020:

Take the 32 books with a grain of salt–I have boxed sets in there, as well as the individual Kindle and paperback versions. This number will also include the Large Print version I have of The Years Between Us. I was really hoping my series would take off, but I’ve made almost as much with All of Nothing ($634.16) as I have with the four Rocky Point books. And after I changed my cover, The Years Between Us has been doing exceptionally well too with sales of $609.24 for the year.

If you want to enlarge it, here is the breakdown for all books for the year:

Readers read a little bit of everything, which is fine. These books are an example of what not to do. Hopping around within the contemporary romance genre hasn’t done me any favors, but I’ve blogged about that and won’t bother going into it again. Needless to say, I learned a lesson and 2021 will be a new direction for me.

I also just want to add, it breaks my heart I never could get Wherever He Goes to move. I’ve run ads to that book relentlessly, and I just can’t drum up interest. I did a Kindle Countdown for it this year, and nada. Not one sale or KU page read off that promotion. It’s such a lovely little story and I hate I can’t make people read it. I’ve changed the blurb for it couple of times and I love the cover. Something isn’t right, but sometimes you just have to give up and move on. If anyone wants a free copy, let me know. Some reviews would probably help. 🙂

Thanks to BookReport for letting me pull those numbers so quickly. It’s a free Chrome browser extension and it’s a nice (free up to a certain royalty earning) tool to have around.

Total Ad Spend for 2020: After seeing my royalties for the year, how did I do with ad spend? I know with some ads I lost money, and I lost some money on single books while other books made up for it. Let’s see how much I spent in ads and if it will make me cry.

This isn’t as scary as I thought it would be:

It seems I did come out ahead with an ad spend of $1,289.91 over this year. Amazon tightened their creative guidelines and I wasn’t able to run ads to my first in series for the past couple of months, and you can see that dip toward the end of this year. I would have cranked up my ads for that first in series if they wouldn’t have done that as my series is a small-town holiday wedding series that would have been a perfect read between October and now, but Amazon is Amazon and there’s not much you can do about it besides go through with the headache of changing out covers, something I did not want to do.

Ad spend needs to include a FreeBooksy promo for $110, and a promo through eBookSoda for $29.00. Even adding those two things I came away with a royalty earning of $816.46. That’s four and a half car payments, or 136 cups of coffee at $6.00/cup or 1.25 rent payments. It helps to say things like that to put into perspective. But $816.46 definitely does not cover the hours and hours of writing, formatting, and cover design, not to mention podcast-listening and non-fiction reading I do for my books.

Still, though, you have to count your blessings. I’ve had people read and enjoy my books. That’s a great feeling.

Number of books written in 2020: 7. I wrote a six-book serial and just finished up a book one in a new series. These are all billionaire romance and that is the direction I’m going to take my writing in the new year. Each book is 85-90k which gives me a total of 595,000 words written, conservatively. I know some authors in some of my FB groups have written a million words this year, but I’m going to take my accomplishment and have an extra glass of champagne on New Year’s Eve. I don’t know what my publishing schedule will be like next year. My six-book serial has only gone through a couple of editing sweeps, and I still need to edit them a couple more times and listen to them, too. Then the formatting and cover design. At this point in the game, you’re supposed to take royalties and sink them back into your business, but my $800 would barely buy me three decent covers, let alone six. And if I went with a paid beta reader, $800 wouldn’t cover what she charges, not for all six. I’ll have to think about what I want to do in regards to that. I definitely don’t want to push them out without another set of eyes, yet I simply can’t afford to hire someone to help me, and that level of favor is a pretty big ask. Anyway, I’ll keep you in the loop on the blog.

Speaking of the blog, number of blog posts written: 73. I’ve tried to be consistent this year, and I made it to 450 followers, earning, on average 1-2 new followers per blog post. Here are the stats WordPress gave me when I looked:

I’ve written enough blog posts they could be a book. Add that to my novel word count, and I’m pretty impressed with myself this year. WordPress also gave me my top commentors, and I want to thank them for consistently reading and commenting on my blog. I appreciate you and you readers are who keep me posting week after week.

Coincidentally, when I logged into my WordPress account this morning, they congratulated me on being with them for five years. I think this is just a lesson to those who think an overnight success can actually mean that. Starting up a blog is hard work, keeping it consistent is hard, if not harder. Thinking of something to write about week after week, and staying relevant, is hard work. One of my friends loves to say, if you don’t like starting, stop quitting, and that is so true in this case. Building a blog, a following, takes patience and tenacity. Thank you for being here.

As for any other highs and lows this year, I wish for as many people who have read my books either through KU or purchased them, that I would have gathered a few more reviews. We’re told not to read reviews, but when we make graphics or whatnot sometimes it’s nice to add a glowing review to encourage people to buy.

So for 2020 here is my weirdest review from His Frozen Heart:

I’ll never begrudge a review, bad or otherwise because I think they’re all helpful and I appreciate anyone who takes the time to write a little something, and for her to say she couldn’t get it out of her head could be taken as a huge compliment. Stumbling upon it did make me smile.


I applaud anyone who has managed to get through 2020 with their sanity intact. Or at least most of it. I started working from home which has been a thrill–nothing like having a cat on your desk or being able to avoid those pesky coworkers. I’ve had a few personal problems crop up, but who hasn’t. My carpal tunnel pain is still under control with those stretches that Aidy Aaward posted earlier this year (I still thank her from the bottom of my heart for them) and with a few visits to the dentist, my mouth pain is under control too, though I am sitting here with one less tooth and hopefully a plan to rectify that situation next year. I started working full-time, but so far that hasn’t stopped my productivity.

I don’t know how many books I’ll write next year while the ones I have written now are releasing. I still have to figure out a newsletter because I know after five years of writing and publishing, that is where I went wrong. If I could redo any of my choices since I started this crazy adventure, it would be building a newsletter from the very beginning of my career.

My plans for 2021?

Start/build a newsletter. Stick with a subgenre. Network more with other romance authors. Stay grateful. Stay hungry.

What will you do in 2021?

Happy New Year!

Cliffhangers. Are they a good thing or do they spell trouble?

Cliffhangers have been on my mind lately. Partly because in the serial I just finished a couple of books within the serial end on cliffhangers–which is why I’m calling it a serial and not a series. A reader has to start at book one. There are no other entry points like a series can have.

Another reason why is because the last Nora Robert’s book, the one that caused a lot of drama over on her blog, ended in a cliffhanger and the fans were both excited for the next installment and appalled they had to wait until Fall of 2021 to see what happens next. (Laura, Nora’s publicist, defended her by saying Nora rarely ends a book with a cliffhanger, which could be why readers were so up in arms about the whole thing.)

One particular cliffhanger that I didn’t appreciate was the cliffhanger season two of Virgin River on Netflix ended with. By now there are spoilers online, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ll leave it to you to look it up (or watch the show!). I was wondering why the credits played out when I realized it was because that was the last episode of the season.

Of course cliffhangers have a reason for their existence–they spur readers and viewers on to the next book or season/episode.

While big authors like Nora Roberts can tell readers to wait and not receive too much flak for it (or simply not care), indies aren’t so lucky. Some indies write what they want and only consider the reader or their feelings when they start getting bad reviews. Writing and publishing what you want, your passion project, your project from your heart, whatever you want to call it, is all fine and good. We should be excited about our projects or why bother to write? But you also want your readers to love what you’re writing just as much as you do.

When does a cliffhanger work against you? Here are my thoughts and you can tell me if you agree or not:

*When you know you’re going to have too much time between books. Do you remember a long time ago when Mad Men’s last season was split into two parts? How many people hung around and waited for those last few episodes to drop? I didn’t. If you end your first book with a cliffhanger, and you’re not even writing the second book yet, think about when you should publish the first. You CAN sit on a book. Most indies are too excited to publish to think about hanging onto a book. And as Andrea Pearson likes to say on the Six Figure Author podcast, your book won’t make you money sitting on your computer. But. How worth it is ticking off your first wave of readers, earning some poor reviews (and maybe even some spoilers thrown in). Bad reviews won’t make you write faster–the opposite is probably true. Nothing kills motivation more than a reader saying they hated what you wrote.

*You (maybe) kill off a beloved character. We all know the last scene in the book–will he or won’t he . . . live. He’s lying on the floor, gasping for breath, an arrow sticking out of his ribs just below his heart. Fade to black. And your readers see red. This is especially bad if you don’t know if he’s going to live or die. There’s a big difference between an upbeat cliffhanger and a horrible, horrible readers-are-crying ending to your book.

*Your cliffhanger is too sad and it makes readers angry. Like I explored a little above, if your cliffhanger is devastating and it makes readers mad, that’s a big difference between something happy–like your MMC about to propose to his girlfriend and someone interrupts them. Now you have a “will they or won’t they,” and it’s a different tone, more anticipation rather than dread. Like in the Fifty Shades of Grey (movies, I didn’t read the books) when Ana leaves Christian’s penthouse. They’ve just broken up over his lifestyle choices–but there are two more books in the serial. They will get back together. Readers know it. There’s anticipation in the how. How will they get back together? Will she forgive him? Will he change for her? The second movie ended on a cliffhanger too–but not with such a steep drop. We see Jack Hyde skulking in the shadows planning his revenge against Ana and Christian. Ana and Christian are HFN (happy for now). He’s proposed, she’s said yes. But we want to know, what will Jack do? Will Ana and Christian be okay? We want them to have a HEA.

*If you think you won’t finish at all. There is a surprising amount of unpublishing in the indie community, more than I ever thought I’d see when I first started writing. I can name two of my writing acquaintances off the top of my head who have unpublished incomplete series. Maybe because they think they won’t finish, or maybe their sales weren’t what they thought, or more likely, their writing wasn’t what it could have been. Writers are a neurotic bunch, and we can get hit hard with criticism and scrutiny. But no matter why you choose to unpublish, and unpublish a book with a cliffhanger, it’s a poor business choice that screams unprofessionalism and poor planning. I have read the series that have been unpublished, and yes, maybe I am their only reader, (disappointing one customer is too many as far as I’m concerned) but it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I will never know how those stories end. And what’s worse is when I asked, I didn’t get an apology, only a virtual shrug and an “it is what it is.”


In my blog post about Nora Roberts and her readers’ entitlement, I talked a little about how indies are spoiling readers with quick release dates. Traditional publishing is mainly a book a year model, and Nora tried to explain this. As indie writers take more slices of the reader pie, fewer and fewer readers are going to want to wait. Even for their favorite trad pubbed author. It makes me wonder if traditional publishing will finally start making some changes. Quick release dates aside, maybe readers are more tolerant of cliffhangers in traditional publishing because they know the books after will eventually come. Indies, unfortunately, aren’t held to contracts, they only write on their own steam and deadlines. They can unpublish, not finish, or take years on a book, and no one (besides readers) are telling them to get to work.

Is there anything you can do if you have to end your book with a cliffhanger?

*Have the pre-order link set up at the end of the book. Depending on the kind of cliffhanger you write, you’ll either have readers clamoring for the next book or throwing their ereaders across the room. Having a pre-order available won’t ensure you’ll have the book done (I’ve seen plenty of pre-orders canceled) but having a self-imposed deadline will give you a date to shoot for.

*Have an excerpt in the back of the book for the next book. Having an excerpt might cool some tempers if they don’t like the way your book ended. Ideally, you’ll want to include the first scene of the next book but anything that will clear up a question will keep readers interested–especially if you can announce a release date for the next book.

*Offer a newsletter sign in exchange for clues about what will happen next. This is advice I’ve gotten from other authors, and I have no idea if it works. Some say you do get lots of email signups if you can offer a hint at what happens next, or maybe an alternate ending, or an epilogue not available anywhere else. Something that will tie up some loose ends to appease your readers until the next book is done/available.

The bottom line is, when you end a book with a cliffhanger, you need to be professional about how you go about it. The best way is to have the book ready and either rapid release, or offer the book on preorder and make sure you meet the deadline (and don’t schedule it too far out, either). There’s no excuse not finishing a series, especially ones that end in a cliffhanger. We are all in charge of our own careers, and if you mess up, there’s no one to blame but yourself. We’re all adults here.

Here are some more thoughts on ending books with a cliffhanger:

Ask The Writer: Ending on a cliffhanger

https://writing.stackexchange.com/questions/12370/is-it-okay-to-end-a-novel-with-a-cliffhanger

The Pros and Cons of Cliffhangers


Thanks for reading! Until next time!

Thursday Musings: Why are people so cranky (toward Amazon)?

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. Dalai Lama

There’s a lot of animosity for Amazon (and IngramSpark for that matter) online in the author groups these days. Authors are angry because they aren’t getting their author copies and proofs in a reasonable amount of time. One woman was experiencing a glitch on the KDP website while trying to figure out a pre-order (which is pretty common all year round, not just December) and there was so much rage in her post my laptop started smoking.

Indies have a really weird love/hate relationship with Amazon. We love them for the opportunity they gave us to bypass gatekeepers (agents) and publish our own work. We hate them for what? Spotty customer service, perhaps. Locking us into KDP Select when authors want the benefits of KU but the flexibility of still publishing wherever they like. We hate the lagging in reports on our ads dashboard, and I don’t know what else. That’s all that I can think of trying to remember what some people have complained about. We easily forget that with the invention of the Kindle and their self-publishing platform that indie publishing is what it is today. There are lots of other factors involved like other platforms coming into play (Nook, Apple, Google Play) and other distributors jumping on the bandwagon (Draft2Digital, PublishDrive, among others like Lulu and Bookbaby) and business/industry dealings I have no interest in following (pricing wars of ebooks, the big publishing houses consolidating) that have affected how indies can publish their books.

You can hate Jeff Bezos for his billions, but Amazon has made several indie author careers. Ask Mark Dawson, or Bella Andre, or Hugh Howey, Andy Weir, or any of the other huge indie authors who found their start publishing a single ebook to KDP. Many, (actually, I think all) of them have gone on to some form of traditional publishing be it in the form of new book deals or paperback only deals, or translations, what have you. Everyone knows The Martian made it to the big screen. Plus, with Amazon’s own publishing imprints, Amazon is luring away big trad authors like Dean Koontz, Sylvia Day, and Patricia Cornwall. They drank the Kool-Aid and are happier for it.

Of course, Amazon played a small role in those things–the authors can take the most credit by having a solid product that people wanted.

I see that as another reason for authors’ rage against Amazon. Amazon Advertising is blamed for taking money but not selling books. They feel ripped off, they feel like Amazon is double dipping–taking royalty money and charging for ad spend. Authors feel like they’re being played. But take a look at some of those books, and you can see why they feel that way. Their books are sub-par, they don’t follow industry standard, their covers are bad, and their books are full of telling not showing.

It’s a lot easier to blame someone else for your mistakes, isn’t it?

I experience the same glitches as everyone else. I hate when they ask you to fix the highlighted mistake, but there is no highlighted mistake. I’ve published enough books, and spoken with support, to figure out what I did wrong. My last problem was a price change that made my royalties in India 0. Amazon won’t let you do that. That section wasn’t highlighted, and it took a call to support for her to quickly look through my book’s profile and tell me what the issue was. One of the mistakes that threw me for a loop was when they stopped taking my imprint as my publisher name. I had to call and ask them why when they had in the past. They said I could list my imprint as my publisher name if I wanted to screen shot my ISBN numbers on the Bowker website and prove that my imprint name is attached to my ISBN numbers. No thanks. That was a battle I had no intention of fighting. I dislike they’re tightening their creative guidelines and I can’t run ads to my series because the covers are too steamy. It’s irritating because I don’t think the covers, in relation to other contemporary romance steamy cover, are that racy. But my ads get declined over and over and I stopped trying to slip past their moderators. It’s not worth making them mad at me.

Those are the types of things that can make a person angry, right? But the thing is, you’re running a business, and there’s no business on the face of this planet that doesn’t have some kind of issue every day. Be it employees calling in sick, or the internet is down, or a water pipe burst and your store is flooded. You’re running a small business. Things happen, and as a responsible business owner, if you’re planning a release and something happens, that’s for you to take care of, it doesn’t matter who is to blame.

The pandemic doesn’t make things any better. I don’t know how KDP sets up their support. Depending on who answers my call, it sounds like they sometimes outsource their calls. I don’t call enough to figure out when–I speak with both people with Asian accents as well as American accents. During the global pandemic, we don’t know how COVID is affecting Amazon’s employees. Maybe KDP support is working from home, or maybe they work in call centers and they are short-staffed. Their POD printers must be pumping books out like crazy, but Amazon workers oversee those and box up the copies for shipping.

Sometimes authors forget that Jeff Bezos isn’t all of Amazon. Behind Amazon’s logo are thousands of workers. They have lives. They have families. They get sick.

Your entitlement doesn’t look good on you.

Keep it out of the groups.

The bottom line is, you don’t have to publish with Amazon. You can take all your energy and ad money and use it to build a readership on other platforms. There are indie authors who do very well wide. Lindsay Buroker publishes wide and she makes a million dollars a year. Not all of that comes from Amazon. She once said that Google Play had been trying to contact her to update her banking information. When she finally got around to it, she said she had enough royalties built up there she went out and paid cash for a brand new truck. You can make other platforms work for you. Kindle Select isn’t the end-all, be-all of your publishing business. You can make money if your books aren’t in KU. You have to work for it. Just like any business owner.

Kindness and politeness are not overrated at all. They're underused. Tommy Lee Jones

Being in some of the author groups is such a drag right now. It’s all complain, complain, complain. I love being in the 20booksto50k group. Every single post is moderated and they don’t allow any negativity. That takes a lot of work. There’s a lot of negativity out there aimed at both KDP and IngramSpark. From the complaints I’ve read online, IngramSpark might be doing even more poorly than KDP. Personally, I’ve never liked IngramSpark’s website. Uploading books there is a bear and it’s the last thing I do when I publish because I hate it so much. I only do that so my paperbacks are available everywhere just in case. From my own experience, their POD quality isn’t any better than KDP Print. I use it for the distribution and that’s all. But we have to remember that IngramSpark services thousands of authors, and those authors are publishing books every day. You are not a special snowflake and you have to stop acting like you are.

You can accomplish by kindness what you cannot by force. Pubilius Syrus

I’ve worked in customer service all my life in one way or other. Going off on a customer service agent is the best way to ensure you don’t get the service and results you want. We remember you. We make notes. The second your name pops up, we cringe inside. Who knows if the customer service reps at KDP have access to a notes portion of your profile. Do you want them to say “Nice author to work with. :)” Or do you want them to say, “Angry. Yelled at me and used expletives.” The next time you call, what kind of treatment do you think you’ll receive?

Craig Martelle likes to remind us that you, as an indie author, are part of a whole. We make up that whole. You represent us. Every shitty thing you say to an Amazon rep is reflected back on indie authors. When I need to call or email, I am pleasant, I wish them a nice day. I chit chat and tell them to stay safe and healthy. I thank them for being there. They are at work to earn a paycheck to feed their families. Show some kindness. At the end of they day when they log off, they don’t care about your book. Remember that.

Remember there's no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end. Scott Adams

I’m not quite sure what I wanted to do with this post. It’s the holiday season, people are cranky because of the pandemic. Lots of us don’t have jobs, can’t buy presents for our kids this year. I’m not without my own issues this month. But it is never okay to take your anger out on someone else. If you have that much rage built up inside you that you have to go off on an Amazon rep because something happened to your pre-order, find a therapist.

There’s not much left of 2020. Make the most of it!